“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” — John Muir
While John Muir may have been one of the most influential naturalists in American history, founding the Sierra Club and paving the way for future organizations, Bob Hillyer and members of the Elkin Valley Trails Association have changed the face of the small town of Elkin, re-branding it as a bona fide “trail town.”
A lifelong Eagle Scout and world traveler, Hillyer has played an integral part in the development of trails in the local community. Originally from Asheville, Hillyer grew up playing in the then-small mountain town, growing his passion for nature and hikes through the woods.
After high school graduation, Hillyer attended Pfeiffer University. “That’s where I met my wife,” said Hillyer, who is still happily married many years later. Furthering his passion for knowledge, Hillyer earned a degree in philosophy, reading the works of Aristotle and Socrates. “I still like reading. I enjoy philosophy. It’s so individual.”
Once Hillyer and his wife married, they embarked on a six-month journey around the world leaving Hillyer inspired with a lifelong wanderlust. When asked if he had a favorite place, all Hillyer could say is that each leg of the journey was unique and enjoyable in its own way.
Living in Baltimore, Maryland, and later Arkansas, Hillyer and his wife eventually settled in Elkin to operate the log home plant in the area. As a father of three children, Hillyer decided that Elkin was the perfect place to watch his family grow. “My wife and I look back and say that this is a great place to raise children,” said Hillyer. “If one got in trouble, I could find out quickly.”
Following in their father’s footsteps, his children share one trip a year with their father, traveling anywhere in the world they choose to go. “I just got back from the Alps, hiking with my daughter,” said Hillyer with excitement. “We did the Tour du Mont Blanc. Before that I went with my other daughter to Macchu Picchu in Peru. My son chose to go dog sledding across the border in Canada.”
Hillyer warned that his travels have not been without incident. “When we were dog sledding I ended up with three broken ribs on Sled Crash Hill,” said Hillyer.
While Hillyer is now retired, he remains active as an avid hiker, outdoorsman and castle maker (handmade wooden castles). As a retirement gift to himself, in 2008 he embarked on a strenuous hike of the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to the mountains of New York before traveling to Mount Katahdin, Maine, and heading back south to New York to complete the trail.
“What I enjoy most is the solitude and the interesting people you meet along the way,” said Hillyer, who is riddled with stories of the characters with whom he’s shared a piece of his journey. Of all his journeys, his hike of El Camino de Santiago in Spain bears some of the most unique memories. “We stayed in monasteries, the same rooms as the monks who used to live there.”
Though he’s travelled the world, his heart remains in the little town of Elkin. Hillyer enjoys working to develop trail easements, road and off-road trail routes, engage in trail construction and act as a leader in developing partnerships to bring our trails to fruition with the EVTA.
“I hope to inspire people. I just love it,” said Hillyer of the message he wants to share from his travel experiences. “I want people to see that they can break that small circle of friends and see the whole world that’s out there.”
As for future plans, Hillyer will continue his diligent efforts with the EVTA while also planning his next adventure. “My daughter Courtney and I are spending a week in Tuscany taking cooking classes,” said Hillyer.